The Age of Gold
Gold
The Age of Silver
Silver
The Age of Lead
Lead


A mighty King of Men was found to rule the Land as lord,
Selected by the pulling of a wondrous spiral Sword.


What to say about the Third Age? Little, for Unicorn and Dragon had only a peripheral influence upon it. Long divorced from that great Dawn, where magic was breathed by all life, and no thing was not beautiful, the Age of Bronze was a tarnished, crude affair compared to that of Gold, or even Silver. Whilst both Unicorns and Dragons were known and occasionally seen, this was an age for Man. Magic was weak, and he ruled mainly through strength of arms. Few were those with the strength of will to wield magic, and all but a handful of them were reviled, and their strength so feeble that many were brought down by resentful or fearful folk who no longer trusted magic. Religion and Science were their new ways.

For a spell it worked, as had the Golden and Silver Ages before it, then anarchy began to claim the land. The strong preyed on the weak, crushing their will and subjugating them. Disease and poverty spread and grew, as small bands of men warred with each other, enslaving or killing their fellows.

As darkness gathered and a chill wind blew across the increasingly desolate world of Men, one man, a Wizard, wiser than his fellows, and strongly gifted in magic beyond all his kindred, looked far and saw the pitiful end his race would come to if nothing halted this decline.

He sought the advice of a Dragon, but the Dragon saw nothing amiss. That mankind would soon extinguish himself in senseless bickering was not a concern to Dragons. Was not this a natural way of things, for the Strong to triumph over the Weak? And if the race destroyed itself in the process, then the race must obviously be weak too, and not worthy to survive.

But it seemed to the Wizard that this could not be right. There must surely be another way, and so he sought the advice of a Unicorn. And the Unicorn saw plenty amiss. The Unicorn Way is one of harmony: a sharing of strength, where all contribute. There were no weak for many weak people can come together to form a great strength. What was injured could be healed instead of subjugated or left to die. Through unity, the race of Mankind could achieve the grace he had once known.

The Wizard knew what must be done, and he knew that he himself could not achieve it. Clever and wise he was, but he was no leader. He needed to find someone through who he could work: an ordinary man, with physical rather than magical strength, so that the sceptical people had no reason to mistrust him. A man of humble origins and yet inborn nobility, to gain him credibility with both lord and peasant. He must be a man with a just heart, and a strong one, for not easily would the myriad petty tyrants of the land yield their fragmentary holdings. There were those who, under a strong leader, would see the strength to be gained through harmony and would work to further it, but they would first have to be won over. Then too were there evil and selfish lordlings who would sacrifice every last man, woman, and child before relinquishing an iota of their ill-won power. These would never bow, even though their conquests could never ultimately prevail.

"I need a king," said the Wizard. "Not just any king either, for there are many that style themselves king in this shattered land. He must stand above all others: the High King. Yet how can I find such a man?"

"You let him find himself," the Unicorn told him. "None will trust a king chosen by a Wizard, however noble be his motives. You need a symbol; one that both the strong and the weak can trust, just as you hope your king may be trusted."

"What symbol would this be though?" mused the Wizard. "In this war-torn age, Man trusts only the strength of his sword."

"Then let his symbol be a sword," said the Unicorn, and before the Wizard could stop her, she reared and brought down her shining horn, point first, upon an anvil-shaped boulder nearby.

There was a shriek, like two iron mountains being ground against one another. Lightning flared and the ground shook. Smoke billowed, and there was a terrible burning smell. And when the smoke cleared, the Wizard cried out in horror, for the Unicorn's horn, impaled irremovably into the stone, had broken off at its base, and blood wept freely from the mortally injured Unicorn.

Before she died, she told the Wizard what he must do, and he, with tears streaming down his cheeks, promised her that he would. Then she died, or seemed to, and her body gently glowed and faded into a pale vapour which poured into the impaled alicorn. As it did, the broken base began to shine fiercely until the Wizard had to look away, and when he was able to look back, the horn had transformed into a marvellous sword, brighter than a mirror, with a strange spiral design upon it.

The Wizard tried to take the sword from that place, but though he was not a slight man, he could not remove the sword. In fact, though the stone was not a large one, neither sword nor rock would shift at all, both as anchored to mountains.

So the Wizard travelled and prepared the way. He spread the tale of a marvellous sword, and how it could not be removed save by the one destined to rule all the land as its High King. People sought out the sword themselves some just to regard it in awe; some to try their luck at drawing it; some to try and steal it, either for its base value (though they could not guess how high that may have been) or for the prowess they might gain from drawing the sword. But the sword did not move a hairsbreadth for any of them, and the legend began to grow.

The rest of the story is well-known to humans. A child was born: the illegitimate son of a high-born lady taken in conquest by a marauding kinglet. A gentle and just lad with none of his father's avaricious ways, there came a day when, little guessing the significance of his act, he pulled the sword from the stone as easily as sliding it from a scabbard. Such was the momentum of the legend that many instantly bowed to him as their leader enough that he had no trouble quelling those who would recognise no king above themselves. And in a few scant years, the land was united, and prosperous, and it seemed a new golden age might have dawned.

And it endured a long time. This was not the ageless realm of the Golden Age, but Time did not drive the world as harshly as it does today. And the High King, for reasons no one knew except perhaps the Wizard, who served as the King's advisor, enjoyed a greatly extended youth, as did the circle of champions he gathered to himself.

Finally however, treachery brought a premature end to the High King's house. His queen and his closest friend betrayed him. No evil did they intend, but their love for each other was the tiny wedge that began the decay. Their act sullied the perfection of the King's image, and opened a way for his enemies to strike, and strike they did. Discontent was fanned into rebellion and civil war.

The High King met his foes in battle: one colossal battle to decide the fate of the land. Men died in their thousands until only a handful of warriors remained. Then did the High King battle the rebellion's leader; a dark knight whose sign was that of a winged serpent coiled against a field of black. It was a savage, elemental battle, and such was the power embodied by the two men that the land itself responded to their conflict. Storm lashed around them. Mountains trembled and forests fell.

Finally, the High King realised what must be done. He realised that the land had prospered as he had prospered, and fallen as his own power fell. There was a link between them, and if he could not prevail over this adversary, then he must sever that bond, lest the land die with him. And so he launched a desperate final attack, abandoning all defence to strike down his foe with the spiral sword. He paid the price he had known he would: as his sword forever silenced his enemy, he took a mortal wound himself, and felt the terrible pain that was not simply of his body, but his link with his realm severed.

Through his selflessness, the world did not end. The Age of Bronze was ended, its triumphs and creations brought low by that cataclysmic final battle, but in giving his life freely, the High King saved some vital remnant, and the Fourth Age was born.




The Age of Silver Return to the Age of Silver

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